Much Ado About CEO Positioning

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Godfrey Adejumoh

Organisations exist for a purpose. Every organisation, irrespective of its size, seeks to achieve set vision and mission. In pursuit of those objectives, there is a leader, appointed to guide the team. He is strategically positioned as the driver of the corporate goal, the eye and voice of the organisation. His actions or inactions will impact positively or negatively on the organisation. In most cases, the leader is the chief executive officer (CEO).

The CEO’s role is both positional and strategic. In helping the CEO to stay positive in the limelight of the engagements with internal and external stakeholders, the corporate communications team needs to be both strategic and sensitive to the current happenings in the immediate and distant environment. If the CEO is well positioned like a king in a chess game, he commands respect and reverence among stakeholders. The avenue to achieve this is both an art and science of strategic communications. The job of effectively positioning the CEO rests squarely on the corporate communications team.

Here are some things to bear in mind to achieve the set goal:

PROTECT YOUR CEO One of the first principles of managing the CEO and CEO communications is to understand that he cannot be part of everything in and outside of the organisation. Where there are clearly defined channels of communications, not all messages should come from the desk of the CEO. No matter the pressure you face from stakeholders as a member of the CEO strategic communications management team, define the governance around the CEO communications.

If the message is not strategic to the goals and purpose of the organisation, it is a no-go area for the CEO. Such communications should be routed through other channels, not the CEO. If the CEO is protected enough with the proper and structured governance around CEO communications, messages from his desk will lead and sustain the reverence built around the office to achieve its purpose.

POSITION YOUR CEO The CEO is the king in a chess game, the queen is an anthill, the commander in the chief and the head, face, and voice of the organisation. While the intent is not for discrimination, the CEO, like the biggest masquerade, cannot and should not be part of every dance at the village square. The CEO must use the cabinet of soldiers for the tactical and operational dealings. Every time the CEO has to make an appearance in the public sphere, it must be from the ground of thought leadership.

Do not reduce the reverence and the aura around your CEO to tactical operations. If the CEO must sit on a panel with other thought leaders, you must profile them to ensure they are fellow C-Level executives. Be deliberate to avoid making your CEO sit with non-peers. The only exception may be on the ground of mentorship to inspire and instil confidence in the next generation of leaders.

CREATE SPARK AROUND YOUR CEO What you make of your CEO is solely in your hands as his strategic communications business partner. You must be intentional to create spark around your CEO. Everything about him must amaze. The CEO messaging in writing or speaking must be crafted to achieve the ‘wow effect’ of passion, enthusiasm and precision. Interestingly, it is not the CEO’s job to develop or draft the messages, except where you are fortunate to have someone who is either a writer or has a flair for writing. Even with this scenario, as the strategic communications business partner, you play a role in co-creating the messaging. The implication is that, as the communications specialist, you must the basic understanding of trends, issues and research capability to deliver a good message. However deep you need to go to achieve your job, you owe yourself and your CEO, the task of delivering messaging that makes the CEO a spark to the audience.

CONNECT AND CREATE CAMARADERIE The CEO might have been described with words like a king in a game of chess and the biggest masquerade. Notwithstanding, it is your job as the strategic communications business partner to make your CEO connect to the stakeholders as a friend, a leader with emotional intelligence that understands the need of the people, feels their pain and a mentor that inspires hope and confidence. Your message for the CEO must be positioned to create the right connections and camaraderie with every audience. Understanding the audience is key. This is the insight into what makes them unique; their passion, interest, challenges, aspirations, values and needs. You must brief and align the CEO with the right messaging, tone, flair and choice of words to create the right connections. In a nutshell profile every audience to the CEO, make the CEO fit to the audience based on the issues at hand and purpose to be achieved. Where the audience is in the mainstream, ensure that the CEO is grounded in the style of conversation. Where the audience is youthful, make the CEO a trendy fellow. And where the audience is a business community, the CEO must appear as a thought leader of class and impact.

Get the point and make your CEO humane and not plastic before the audience. Make your CEO dynamic, adaptive and a rounded personality of repute. Never allow your CEO to live out of the context of the reality we live, work and play in.

Godfrey Adejumoh

A PR & Corporate Communications Strategist, based in Lagos (godfrey.adejumoh@gmail.com)

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